I have an on again, off again love affair with the Waffle House. Through the years, this yellow and black institution has played various roles in my life, but none more important than providing neutral ground for communication with my teenaged children.
In fact, before I sent my firstborn off to college in New York City last Saturday, he requested that his sister and I accompany him to the Waffle House for a last breakfast, his main concern being that there would be no such opportunities in his new home. Most likely it was not the companionship of his female relatives that he desired, but rather a craving for grits and hash browns, mediocre coffee and Marvin Gaye on the jukebox. What a fine breakfast we had!
Back in the era of my own college days (and nights), the Waffle House (or Awful House as we sometimes referred to it) was the destination on many a night, when my and my friends’ craving for pecan waffles and mediocre coffee drew us down the Atlanta highway.
Since that time, I had not frequented any of the restaurants very often, owing to both a slightly enlarged bank account and waistline. Those were days of being a singleton, as Bridget Jones would say, then a DINK (double income no kids), and later, happy meal dates. I don’t remember exactly when I went back to the Waffle House, but I do remember why.
It seemed like it happened overnight. It was a time when my children changed from adorable pajama-clad kids with my bed as their Saturday morning destination, into comatose, surly strangers whose only desire was more sleep, privacy and peers, followed by more sleep. My bed, and indeed my person, were not so much expendable as non-existent. And yet we all still had to live together and co-exist peacefully somehow.
The Bible says that if you share a meal with someone, you automatically bond with your fellow diners—even if they’re teenagers—although there weren’t all that many teenagers besides Mary mentioned in the Bible.
I don’t remember which child suggested it, but the Waffle House was the only place they both agreed upon. I must admit it wasn’t my first choice, but in the interest of the three of us actually sitting down together for a meal, I acquiesced. I got a patty melt and heartburn. I also got an earful.
It was kind of like the old days, back when I drove carpools. There in the front seat, hands guiding the steering wheel, I became invisible—an anonymous part of the automobile. I listened and learned. I said very little. On roundtrips to soccer fields and friends’ houses, to malls and school, I slowly became educated on the lives of my children.
Then they got wheels—not their own, but wheels owned by friends. It seemed they always were gone, or were just about to go, or were back and asleep. We never talked. That was when the Waffle House days became important. It was over those grits, eggs, hash browns and whatever else is on the menu that I co-existed with the two people I love most in the world. Some days, I even got a little teaching and preaching in, but time was usually short and the prospect of a public scene, even at the Waffle House, deterred me from any very threatening or negative conversations.
I also paid the bill and it was some of the best money I ever spent. It was kind of like the Master Card commercial—although ironically the Waffle House accepts only cash—those meals really were priceless. I hope we can meet again there when the freshman returns. I understand it’s open on Thanksgiving.